Sierra Leone is one of the most curious states in West Africa. It is a country of beautiful nature with magnificent virgin beaches, rain forests and fast rivers, high mountains and a great prospect for the development of the tourist sphere. Here live people not similar to other nations, but all of them are very open, friendly and independent. Welcome to Sierra Leone, the country is waiting for you!
Sierra Leone on the map
Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa, on the Atlantic coast, located just north of the equator. It is one of the smallest countries in the region, with an area of only 71 thousand square kilometres.
Sierra Leone shares land borders with two countries, Guinea to the north and east and Liberia to the south. The coastline is 420 kilometres long. Several dozen small islands belong to the country.
The western coastal part of the republic is a lowland, almost everywhere covered with dense mangrove forests. Further to the east begins a wooded plateau, gradually passing into fairly high mountains. Sierra Leone is home to the highest peak in West Africa, Mount Bintimani (1948 metres).
Many fairly large rivers flow through the country, the longest of which is the Rokel (400 kilometres). There are also lakes in the mountainous areas, the largest being Sonfon (8 square kilometres).
Safety for tourists
In the global index of peacefulness, which takes into account the calmness of the situation, attitude to tourists and many other factors, Sierra Leone is on the honourable 35th place, next to China and Italy. Such a high place in the rating is largely due to the friendly attitude of the local population to tourists, but one should not forget about safety rules in this country.
There is a high level of street crime here, robberies and other violent crimes are not uncommon. Pickpockets are found in large cities, which is typical for any poor country. Tourists are not recommended to visit poor neighbourhoods alone and openly show money and jewellery.
Traffic here is not too busy, there are relatively few cars. But the condition of most roads is deplorable, and the risk of getting into an accident is quite high. In addition, outside the cities are often set unauthorised checkpoints, which are engaged in outright extortion.
Like any African state, Sierra Leone can be dangerous in terms of tropical infections. Cases of malaria, tetanus, yellow fever are not uncommon here. A few years ago, the Ebola virus raged in the country. A large percentage of the population is infected with HIV.
Sanitation in the country is at a low level and one should not drink tap water. Fruit should be washed thoroughly and food should be bought in shops and restaurants. Observance of the rules of personal hygiene will save you from many troubles.
From natural dangers, the main remains the tropical sun, long stay under the rays of which threatens heat strokes. The sea off the coast of the country is calm, but there are poisonous fish and jellyfish, and sometimes sharks come here.
There are dangerous predators, including lions and leopards, poisonous snakes and mosquitoes that carry dangerous diseases.
Be careful and cautious, and you’ll find your trip to Sierra Leone to be an exciting rather than an unpleasant journey.
Despite total poverty, the population in this African republic is very fond of merry and noisy celebrations, many of which bear the imprint of ancient pagan beliefs.
There are also many public holidays in the country. They are divided into secular and religious. The former include Armed Forces and Independence Days. The latter are divided into Christian and Muslim holidays. The Christian holidays are Christmas and Easter, while the Muslim holidays are Shawwal, Zul-Hijjah and Rubi al-Awwal. New Year is also celebrated in the country.
Among the ethnic festivals, most of them are held in Freetown. These are the Lantern Festival and the Tangain Festival, where you can learn about local music and craft traditions. The International Film Festival is also held in the capital.
What fun things to do in Sierra Leone
In the not so distant past, Sierra Leone was very popular with tourists from Europe and Asia. But the events of recent decades, the civil war, which caused rapid impoverishment, destroyed the tourist infrastructure. Now it is being hastily restored, but so far the country can not boast a wide variety of tourist attractions.
- Beach holidays. The coastline of the country is quite extensive, but most beaches are unequipped and deserted. Although on the popular with tourists Banana Islands there are modern hotels and even ethno-houses, where you can enjoy privacy and communion with nature.
- Surfing. The country’s beaches are ideal for not too experienced wave-catchers, but again everything is hampered by the lack of infrastructure. Only some of the hotels have their own surfing centres.
- Fishing. Fishing enthusiasts can easily hire a boat from local fishermen and spend a day away from the shores. There are plenty of big fish in the local waters for anyone to enjoy.
- Ecotourism. A popular destination nowadays, allowing you to get to know the culture and nature of the country in the best way possible. Cute huts in traditional African style can be found both on and off the coast.
- Tea Tour. Tea cultivation forms one of the pillars of Sierra Leone’s economy, and tourists are offered familiarisation tours to tea plantations. Tea is still grown and harvested the old-fashioned way there.
- National Parks. There are several picturesque national parks in the country, where you can get acquainted with the peculiarities of local nature. Popular favourites are the Tiwai Biosphere Reserve and Gola National Park, the largest in the country. There you can see the famous rainforests and meet some of the most interesting animals.
- Takugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. A unique place where not only the population of these amazing monkeys is preserved, but also organises ecological events. It offers tours of different duration, as well as the opportunity to live in small houses in close contact with intelligent primates.
- National Museum. The most visited museum of the country is located in Freetown. In it, you can get acquainted with the ancient culture of the local population and learn about recent events related to the civil war.
- Markets. The best way to get acquainted with local customs and mores is at the markets. Here you can buy any souvenirs and products of local craftsmen. The largest market is located in Freetown.
- Hiking, trekking. Popular in the past, the route through the mountains of the Northern Province of the Republic is now back in demand. Here are the highest mountains in West Africa, including Bintimani, almost 2 kilometres high. It takes even experienced tourists about 5 hours to climb it.
What is important to know about Sierra Leone
If you are planning to visit this state, here are some of the most important things to know:
The official languages of the country are English (the country was a British colony for a long time) and Krio (Creole).
English is used by government organisations for document management, but most of the population does not speak it. However, Krio is spoken by about 95% of the population.
The languages of the major ethnic groups, Mende and Temne, are also spoken.
There are currently just over 8 million people living in the country. About 80% of the population lives in rural areas.
The literacy rate in the country is low, with only 40% of the population able to read and write. At the same time, almost 70% of the population lives below the poverty level.
Sierra Leone is a multi-ethnic country with representatives of dozens of African tribes. They make up almost 90% of the population. The remaining 10% are Creoles, descendants of mixed marriages, and some Europeans.
The national currency is the leone, which is divided into 100 cents.
Banknotes of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 leones are currently in circulation. And coins in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents. Many coins are characterised by their geometric shape and trimmed edges.
In the country, dollars and euros are freely accepted in many places, sometimes they are even preferred to the local currency. If necessary, dollars and euros should be exchanged at official bank branches, as it is safer.
The leone exchange rate is unstable and changes constantly. Because of the very low exchange rate, a denomination of 1:1000 was carried out in 2022. Old style banknotes have been withdrawn from circulation.
Sierra Leone is officially considered a secular country with no dedicated state religion. However, the majority of the population according to official data professes Islam. Muslims in the country are about 60%. Anglican Christians are about 10%. The rest are either atheists or continue to practice traditional local pagan cults.
Sierra Leone lies in a sub-equatorial climate zone, which is characterised by the division of the year into two seasons – wet and dry.
The rainy season begins in late May and lasts until October. At this time, the country can receive up to 1,000 millimetres of rain per month. In November, the dry season begins and the amount of rainfall decreases dramatically. In January and February, precipitation may not fall at all.
The average daily temperature in the country varies from +26 degrees in rainy August to +27 degrees in dry winter. At the same time in the daytime the temperature often rises to +35 degrees.
The average temperature of the seawater off the coast of Sierra Leone has little annual variation and always remains suitable for swimming. There is virtually no division into winter and summer seasons, and it is very hot all year round.
- Water temperature in winter, December-January: from +29 to +31 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in spring, March-May: from +28 to +30 degrees.
- Water temperature in summer, June-July: from +28 to +30 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in autumn, September-November: +29 to +32 degrees Celsius.
Sierra Leone is a fairly safe country in terms of natural disasters. The most common are floods and landslides in mountainous areas. In August 2017, for example, severe landslides rocked the Western Province, affecting even Freetown. As a result, over 3,000 homes were destroyed and more than 1,100 people were killed.
Tropical cyclones avoid the republic, but storms and hurricanes do occur. During one of them, the country lost its symbol – the Cotton Tree in the capital.
The tectonic situation in the country is calm, there are no volcanoes nearby, and earthquakes, although they do occur, are localised. The last of the strong earthquakes occurred in 2021 in neighbouring Guinea and had a magnitude of 5. It was hardly felt in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is a presidential republic. The President of the country is the head of the government and the armed forces. It is the most influential official in the country. Legislative power is represented by unicameral Parliament.
Administratively, the country is divided into 3 provinces and capital Western region.
The capital of the country is Freetown.
The major cities and resorts
Freetown is the capital of the country and its largest city. It was founded in 1792 by English merchants, and now it is home to just over a million people. Freetown attracts tourists with its modern hotels, national museum, beautiful churches and botanical gardens. The landmark of the capital was considered to be the Cotton Tree, which is over 2 centuries old, but it was destroyed by a hurricane at the end of May 2023.
Lakka is a coastal resort town west of Freetown. It has a population of only 5,000 but is known for its beautiful beaches. In recent years, new hotels have been built, and the entertainment industry has been developing.
Banana Islands – a small archipelago of 3 islands, 5 kilometres from Freetown. New hotels are being built and infrastructure is being developed. On the quality of beaches, the archipelago is not inferior to the most popular places in the world.
Lion – the name of the country translates as Lion Mountain, and it is believed that in the past there were many of these fearsome predators. Now, the lion is depicted on the coat of arms of Sierra Leone.
Crocodile – these dangerous reptiles are found in almost all rivers of the country and are the national symbol.
Chimpanzees are the most intelligent of the monkeys and are depicted on the 20 leone coin.
Rice is the main agricultural crop of the country and the basis of nutrition of its population.
Poyo is a sweet palm wine that locals like to drink in special bars while discussing the news of world politics.
How to get to Sierra Leone
You can get to the country almost exclusively by aeroplane. The country has a single international airport Lungi in Freetown, but there are only a few direct connections to European cities, such as London or Brussels. You can also reach the country from neighbouring Guinea, which has air links to a large number of countries, including Paris.
From Guinea to Sierra Leone, tourists arrive by local airlines or by bus service linking the capitals of the two countries.
There is no railway service in the country. All internal travel is by road, and between islands – by ferry.
How much money to take with you
The cost of a holiday in Sierra Leone can vary greatly, depending on whether you plan to holiday on your own at your own risk, or use the services of a travel company and trusted guides.
Nowadays, it is quite difficult to find a tour to the country and most travellers prefer to get to the country on their own. You can book a hotel on special services. The approximate price for a double room in a 4-star hotel is from $100 per night.
The cost of a flight to Sierra Leone from any European country is 800–1000 dollars, taking into account a possible transfer.
In the country itself, the following costs await tourists:
- Food: food prices here are low, and even eating in a restaurant will not particularly stress the tourist. So, a snack in McDonald’s will cost $10 per person, lunch in a local café – $5, and dinner in a decent restaurant for two – $30.
- Visiting attractions: beach facilities will be free when staying at the hotel, except for extras such as diving. Visiting parks and reserves is chargeable and depends on the number of people and the duration of the excursion.
- Souvenirs: from Sierra Leone tourists bring mainly jewellery and fabrics, aboriginal clothing, ritual masks, accessories made of crocodile and snake skin. Costs for souvenirs are individual and can vary considerably.
- Transport: you can move around the cities almost exclusively by taxi or shuttle buses. But the latter are not used by tourists because of their high congestion. Boarding a taxi costs $1 and then 50 cents per kilometre. Intercity transportations are also carried out by taxi, the cost of travelling to remote settlements can exceed $100.
Thus, taking into account the reserve amount for unforeseen expenses, a holiday in Sierra Leone for two people will cost from 2000 to 4000 thousand dollars for 7 days including flights. And of course, the maximum holiday amount can be much higher.
If you have already visited Sierra Leone, please share your impressions in the comments. Please write a few words, what you liked most of all, what moments remained in your memory forever, and what you would recommend to other tourists. We will be very grateful for your recommendations!